unc·​tu·​ous | \ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs, -chəs, -shwəs\

Definition of unctuous 

1 : having, revealing, or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality

2a : fatty, oily

b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance

3 : plastic fine unctuous clay

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Other Words from unctuous

unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Is unctuous positive or negative?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act, that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere ("to anoint"), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent ("a soothing or healing salve") and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the application of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but his or her insincere earnestness can leave an unwelcome residue with others, much like some ointments.

Examples of unctuous in a Sentence

an unctuous effort to appear religious to the voters an unctuous appraisal of the musical talent shown by the boss's daughter

Recent Examples on the Web

The widely cut fish, almost circular in shape, increases the surface area so that each bite is just a little more unctuous and satisfying than competitors' cuts. Krista Simmons, Condé Nast Traveler, "15 Best Sushi Restaurants in Los Angeles," 27 Feb. 2018 No one who orders a Kobe slider wants the unctuous, fatty experience of ordering a Kobe steak. Jonah Flicker, Town & Country, "Anthony Bourdain Says Donald Trump's Well-Done Steak Order "Hurts Me"," 20 Apr. 2017 The tactlessness seemed all the more notable given how unctuous Mr Moon has been in his praise of Mr Trump, despite the misgivings of many South Koreans. The Economist, "Donald Trump is undermining the coalition he built against North Korea," 25 May 2018 And speaking of Macron—all that unctuous Gallic buttering-up didn’t convince Trump to honor the Iran nuclear deal. Lynn Yaeger, Vogue, "In Washington, The Bullies Are Out In Full Force," 13 May 2018 Any kind of pickled vegetable (think carrots, cucumbers, radishes, shallots, beets), dill, hard or soft-boiled egg, horseradish, creamy dairy, and citrus fruit can complement the unctuous texture and salty flavor. Elisa Ludwig, Philly.com, "Beyond bagels: The many uses for smoked fish," 24 Apr. 2018 This one did, in the form of crisp-skinned breast, a dish of unctuous rillettes, and a sauce made from the carcass in an old-fashioned French duck press. Brett Martin, GQ, "GQ's Best New Restaurants in America, 2018," 23 Apr. 2018 Filipino Food has a pork-centric cuisine, one dish in particular is the legendary lechon — a whole roasted young pig with perfectly crispy skin and unctuous roasted meat over an open fire. Michael James Rocha, sandiegouniontribune.com, "San Diego chefs to showcase Filipino cuisine at screening of 'Ulam: Main Dish' documentary," 19 Apr. 2018 Krogstad Festlig 40 percent $27 Rich, unctuous aquavit with pronounced notes of star anise. Jason Wilson, New York Times, "Jump-Starting the Aquavit Renaissance," 13 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unctuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of unctuous

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for unctuous

Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

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Last Updated

20 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for unctuous

The first known use of unctuous was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for unctuous



English Language Learners Definition of unctuous

—used to describe someone who speaks and behaves in a way that is meant to seem friendly and polite but that is unpleasant because it is obviously not sincere


unc·​tu·​ous | \ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s, ˈəŋ(k)sh-wəs \

Medical Definition of unctuous 

: rich in oil or fat : fatty an unctuous pharmaceutical preparation

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a nest or breeding place

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